What Helped Me Get 8’s On My Halts At Our Last Show
Photo by Nicolette Cramer Photography
The Last Show
Last month (March 2020), we were able to head out to a local show. This was just a week before quarantine became a reality. We took two horses, one of which was DJ, an Arabian cob I have been working with.
This was exciting for me, because it was my first chance to take DJ in a show ring. Honestly, it was the second time I had ever ridden him in a truly standard and measured dressage ring. I didn’t know what to expect, other than knowing we had worked on movements at home. I have also ridden and judged enough circles in my life to have a good idea of what 10m vs 20m looks and feels like, lol!
It was a schooling show, so no pressure. I went ahead and entered him in Training 2 & 3, since we have been working on basics at home and schooling 1st level. I always suggest that people show a level down from what they’re schooling at home.
I have already talked about it a bit on social media, but all in all the show went well. Between his owner and me, DJ came home with 4 first places and 1 second place ribbon (he did a few non-dressage events too). We are really hoping this won’t be the last show of the year for us.
Halts - My Pleasant Surprise
A big highlight of what went right in our dressage tests was our halts. The highest marks I got on DJ were from halt scores, being 8s. I was pleasantly surprised with this, but not too surprised, considering how we have worked on these pretty extensively.
DJ isn’t really staying “on the bit” here like he should have been, but all else went quite right! Photo by Nicolette Cramer Photography.
Halts - What I Worked On At Home
If your halts aren’t going well at home in your schooling, don’t expect them to go well at the show.
When I first started working with DJ, he was fidgety at the halt. He was a bit heavy in the front into a halt, and didn’t like to stay still. He would sometimes back up, thinking that was the right answer, especially if the rider didn’t release enough.
Step one for me was to get him to stay still. It took a while, but from the ground and in the saddle, he had to stand as long as I needed him to. I didn’t make a big fuss, and made sure to reward. I also had to make sure I was not moving in the saddle, giving him mixed signals.
It was important that DJ could calmly stay still.
Lightness Once he felt secure enough about standing without fidgeting, we needed to work on getting him to not feel heavy in the front into the halt. This takes a lot of transitions and a bit of finesse and feel from the rider. The horse must understand half halts. It‘s ok and actually good to let them walk a few steps into the halt at first. The training is gradual until you can be more prompt. It's important that the rider give a little in the reins, but not so much that the contact is lost. The horse must also feel and understand the change in your hips, so they know when you half halt or stop your hip movement that it means that they must half halt or stop. Once a horse understands your half halting seat and aids, you won’t need the reins to halt, just to keep a light contact!
It takes many, many transitions over time. I also find it beneficial to halt in different places throughout the ring, so they don’t “memorize” halting at X or wherever else your test requires.
Pick different places to halt. It takes many, many transitions to gradually improve the halt.
Forward & Square In order to make a good, square halt, I had to make sure that DJ’s hind was activated into the halt as well. When I come down centerline before a halt, I don’t slowly die down in the trot until DJ stops. I actually keep the gait very active and forward. If the horse tends to get too quick or strong by this, I adjust with little half halts until it’s time to halt. If I’m riding a horse that isn’t so forward, I make sure to ask them forward down centerline until it’s time to prepare the halt. In any transition down, you need to keep the forward energy. Even into halt. This will keep the hind end activated and underneath them. That doesn’t mean you push the horse forward until you brickwall them into a halt. The hind needs to stay active, but there also needs to be preparation down that line.
The horse needs to be active before and into the halt to be more square. I like to ride a forward thinking centerline before I halt at X.
A really important thing to work on as well is straightness. If you weren’t aware, I’m also an L Graduate, meaning I have trained for two years and graduated the judging L education program. In my judging experience, more than half of the halts I have seen were not straight. The horses are crooked. Usually that means the horse and rider were not straight down their centerline. The rider may have also asked for a halt with some crookedness in their seat or hands.
Straightness is really hard on DJ. He’s a real wiggly one. We have to work on straight lines at home. A LOT. When it comes to horses, they aren’t truly straight unless they are in shoulder fore. The ‘textbook way‘ to be straight to your halt is to ride in shoulder fore down your centerline. I have to be really careful about when I do this since DJ is so wiggly. If I just think shoulder fore with my brain, that’s usually enough. If I try too hard, I will over-aid, and we will end up crooked. Some horses may need a little more shoulder fore straightness help than others. I highly recommend that you begin training by halting along the wall for help with straightness, and then practice off the wall in various places. Keeping the horse forward like I mentioned above will also help with this. It’s hard to keep a horse straight if they’re not moving forward.
Square salute at the show on DJ!
I can’t tell you the exact reasons I got 8s on my halts that day. I wasn't judging myself. Comments on the eights were “square and straight”. Obviously those two things got me the higher scores. There is a lot to look at in a halt. The judge also looks at your centerline before and after the halt, so I make sure to school these things at home as well! I'm going to paste in the USEF Rulebook text for the halt. The Rulebook is a fantastic resource:
DR102 The Halt 1. At the halt the horse should stand attentive, engaged, motionless, straight and square with the weight evenly distributed over all four legs. The neck should be raised with the poll as the highest point and the head slightly in front of the vertical. While remaining “on the bit” and maintaining a light and soft contact with the rider’s hand, the horse may quietly chew the bit and should be ready to move off at the slightest indication of the rider. The halt must be at least 3 seconds when shown with a salute. The halt should be maintained throughout the salute. 2. The halt is obtained by the displacement of the horse’s weight to the hindquarters by a properly increased action of the seat and legs of the rider, driving the horse towards a softly closed hand, causing an almost instantaneous but not abrupt halt at a previously fixed place. The halt is prepared by a series of half-halts (see transitions).
3. The quality of the gaits before and after the halt is an integral part of the assessment.
Moral of the story is, make sure that you are not forgetting to school your centerlines and your halts at home before going down centerline at the next show!
Cheers, and happy riding and happy halts! 😄
Make sure to school everything at home before showing down centerline!
Nicolette Cramer Photography for some of the awesome show shots!
Spot On Braiding Wax for helping me make DJ’s running braid look awesome for the show.
Nuun Hydration for keeping me hydrated during training and competition.
SanSoleil for my favorite sun shirts for training or show (code EQSOL).
Riding Warehouse for their support and wide range of products (code GOWSLEY).
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